Australia - Trip Description
|Since I had to go to Australia for business anyway (yeah, I know, that was rough!), I added on a couple of weeks ahead of time for some leisure travel. Trying to see Australia in two weeks, however, is like trying to see the US in two weeks - just not possible. So I focused on two of my favorite outdoor activities, hiking and climbing, and picked the areas with the best opportunities for these within a couple of day's drive of Sydney or Corowa, where I had to end up for business. Hiking and climbing both tend to happen in mountainous areas, so I picked the main sets of mountains in New South Wales and Victoria as my destinations, but didn't set up a detailed plan in advance. I traveled by car (alone), so I could choose my route and change my plans on the fly as I learned more from the locals about the various attractions in the areas.
By the time I returned to Sydney, I'd driven about 2500 miles, most of it on very pleasant 2-lane country roads. And, of course, all of it driving on the left side of the road! (I did just fine, but once found myself facing another pair of headlights coming head-on down MY side of the road... It was a crazy foreigner, of course!)
|Stop 1: Sydney|
|My first introduction to the friendly and helpful locals in Sydney immediately erased any apprehension I might have had about traveling around for the next couple of weeks without a preset plan. Information about the areas I wanted to visit was easy to find, and people were very willing to offer suggestions about how I should spend my time in Oz. If I'd followed everyone's advice about what to see, however, I'd still be there now...!
Sydney itself is scenic and accessible on foot, and a full day of sight-seeing (after landing at 6 am) kept me awake during the day, and got me ready for a full night's sleep on local time already. So much for jet lag! A second day, with a guided van tour in the morning and self-guided tours in the afternoon, covered the remaining sights I was most interested in seeing, and I was ready to move on the following day. There was some serious hiking and climbing to be done, after all!
|Stop 2: Blue Mountains|
|Only two hours' drive west of Sydney, I reached the Blue Mountains in time for an afternoon hike through their "Grand Canyon." Don't get images of a hot, desert-like expanse of canyon like our own in the US - this one was so narrow you could almost touch both sides at once, and the micro-climate inside it was more like an Amazon rain forest! The next day, the Jenolan Caves - a vast network of beautiful underground limestone caverns - was also a full day's attraction, and then of course came the climbing. I hired a private guide for a day, and we did a classic 9-pitch climb to the top of the middle pinnacle of the Three Sisters (not a difficult climb, but it had great views all the way, and it's always fun to get to the very top of something). Following that, we played around on some more challenging single-pitch climbs until the daylight vanished. The guest house I had stumbled across, through local recommendations (Cleopatra's, in Blackheath), ended up being famous for its first-class gourmet cuisine, much to my amazement and delight! Not what I'm accustomed to when I set out on a hiking/climbing trip, but who am I to complain! Getting home in time for dinner became a new priority for me...!|
|Stop 3: Snowy Mountains|
|A full day's drive from the Blue Mountains took me south to Jindabyne, into the Snowy Mountain range, home of Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest peak in Australia. (Don't get too excited, it's all of 2228 meters - 7307 feet.) I spent the evening exploring around Lake Jindabyne, and the next morning set out on an ambitious hike along the Main Range, to finish with a climb of Mt. Kosciuszko. This day presented the only foul weather I encountered during my entire leisure travel time, although at lower elevations the weather remained nice, so no one believed I'd been pelted with ice and blasted with snow and sleet on the mountain itself! No kidding... I almost considered turning back at one point when cloudbase started coming down rapidly enough to give me concerns about whiteout conditions on the snowfields I was crossing! But cloudbase stayed just above eyebrow level, so I kept pushing on, and the views, even under the clouds, were certainly worth it.|
|Stop 4: Mt. Arapiles|
|The next day, crossing the Great Dividing Range on the yet-to-be paved Great Alpine Highway (i.e. a one-lane dirt road) made for slow going at first, but the close-up views of kangaroos and emu along the road made up for it. Once out of the mountains, navigating to Mt. Arapiles was just a question of connecting the dots - picking the roads from town to town that kept me headed in the right direction, since I was on rural country roads at this point. My destination, the tiny village of Natimuk, at the base of Mt. Arapiles, had no other attraction besides its proximity to the climbing, but that was all it needed.
From a distance, the Arapiles mountains look unimposing, even unspectacular as mountains go - just a single line of bluffs rising out of an otherwise featureless plain. But a closer look reveals why climbers come from far away to play on these crags. The solid limestone faces and buttresses had the greatest variety of quality climbing I'd ever seen in one small area, and the easy access to the cliffs from a road running along the base meant you could park as close as a few meters from your selected route in many places! A campground full of semi-permanent settlements held hundreds of climbers, many of whom would claim there was no finer climbing anywhere else in Australia... or the world! But I only had two full days before I was due in Corowa for my business! So I made the most of the time, starting on multi-pitch climbs, then playing on interesting single-pitch routes, and when my arms gave out, switching to boulder problems until the sun went down. I didn't have an ounce of strength left in my arms by the time I headed back to Corowa for business, so I was ready for the rest.
|Stop 5: Mt. Buffalo|
|A week later, a short break during my business in Corowa gave me a couple of days to explore the nearest set of mountains, in Mt. Buffalo National Park. The peculiar features of this park are the scattered piles of granite boulders of monolithic proportions. Many of the boulders are individually named, they're so big or distinct. I went on a full-day hike through the central area of the park, and became personally acquainted with some of the rocky personalities in the area!
One more day of businees back in Corowa, then a drive back to Sydney (I took the coastal route, but rainy weather meant there wasn't much to see), and my stay in Oz came to a happy end.
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